Michael and Amanda Boren own private property within the SNRA. On February 16, 2021, the Borens submitted an application to Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission for a hearing for obtaining a “Conditional Use Permit” after their airstrip and hangar had been built.
The Conditional Use Application was reviewed by Custer County Planning and Zoning in April. They deferred their decision until May 6th.
Across the state, private landowner’s who comply with all applicable Federal, State, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances are allowed to operate airstrips on their property. It is also true that since the creation of the SNRA 49 years ago, airstrips were discouraged in the central Sawtooth Valley to protect the Area’s outstanding values. For example, the United States used public funds decades ago to acquire and eliminate the use of the Swiss Villa airstrip and its associated development.
Under the Custer County Zoning Ordinance, if the landowner petitions for and has been issued a Conditional Use Permit prior to starting construction, the landowner can build an airstrip on their property.
On the Boren’s property, a grass runway surface was under construction in 2016 and a 4,500 sq.ft. $1,100,000 multi-aircraft hangar facility was constructed prior to their application for the Conditional Use Permit on February 16, 2021. The application therefore admits that the use of the airstrip has been ongoing prior to the date of their application on February 16, 2021 to obtain the required permit. Thus, to the best of Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission knowledge, the Borens’ use of the land has been in violation of the county ordinances for the last two years.
The Borens’ Conditional Use Permit application is not an application for a “proposed use” since a grass runway and a 4,500 sq. ft. $1,100,000 multi-aircraft hangar facility have already been constructed on the property. In addition, according to a letter signed by Brian Anderson, Acting Area Ranger for the Sawtooth NRA, on March 22, 2021 and presented to the Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission, “…construction plans were not submitted to U.S. Forest Service for review and have not been certified as compliant with the private land regulations.” Mr. Anderson goes on to say, “What is clear is that after the creation of the Sawtooth NRA, this type of use was discouraged in the central Sawtooth Valley to protect the Area’s outstanding values.” And, “It is also clear that operating an airstrip without the appropriate permitting in place is inconsistent with the terms and conditions of the scenic easement on this property that was purchased with public funds in order to protect the outstanding values of the area.”
A Scenic Easement is a contract between the federal government and a private landowner, exchanging certain bargained-for land use rights for an agreed-to dollar amount.
The property for which Michael and Amanda Boren have petitioned for a Conditional Use Permit for their airstrip is encumbered with a scenic easement (Custer County Instrument #138313) containing the applicable Private Land Regulations.
As stated in the March 23, 2021 letter to the Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission signed by Brian Anderson, Acting Area Ranger for the Sawtooth NRA, the Scenic Easement purchased on October 24, 1974, with $612,600 in public funds, “…was intended to protect the natural, scenic, historical, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and provide for the enhancement of the recreational values of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and to prevent any development that would tend to mar or detract from its natural, scenic, historical, pastoral, and fish and wildlife recreational values associated therewith.”